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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Think Like an Owner

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The veteran advisor who has built a billion-dollar wealth management firm says there’s one troubling issue he and his owner-advisor peers share. While the next generation of advisors has many great skills, it doesn’t know how to sell. The firm run by this advisor is an SEC-registered, proudly fee-only RIA firm. “Fee-only” and “sales” are rarely uttered in the same sentence, but his point is well-made. All advisors are salespeople, even if the only “thing” they’re selling is their firm.

In her cover story for the November issue of Investment Advisor, Angie Herbers made another good point about sales and veteran advisors: that the era of the rainmaker advisor is over. Not that the era of sales is over, mind you, but rather that attracting and closing on new clients is no longer the sole responsibility of the owners, advisors or rainmakers in an advisory firm.

Instead, Herbers argued that everyone in an advisory firm has a responsibility to attract and close new clients, especially the service people who are the primary contact points with clients. She argued that to succeed among online advice, bigger firms, a talent shortage and the ownership succession crisis, firm leaders must redesign themselves and their firms “to embrace an integrated marketing approach where the firm itself markets for the advisors, instead of advisors marketing for the firms.”

But that’s only half of the road to success. If an entire firm is responsible for marketing itself, then it’s not just the leaders who have to change, but also a firm’s younger advisors and service people.

In her feature story in this supplement, Herbers argues with conviction based on insights drawn from her long consulting career that junior employees of advisory firms must start thinking like owners, not employees.

Thinking like an owner starts with understanding how it feels to have responsibility not just for yourself but for all your employees and all your clients. “Imagine if the only money that will come in today, tomorrow and every other day will come only from the work that you do and the decisions that you make. Finally, imagine that everything you have or want—your house, cars, vacations, kids’ education, health care, etc.—depends on your business. That’s how advisory firm owners see the world every day.”

It’s not just about grasping intellectually what an owner’s role is, or even understanding the emotions that can roil an owner’s soul. In her trademark way, Herbers provides practical steps younger advisors and service persons should take to start acting like an owner in their own sphere of influence.

Just as all successful advisory firms differ from each other—in their models and even in their succession plans—they’re also alike. As Tolstoy wrote in “War and Peace,” “All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”